Saturday, 15 January 2011

One "Clear Message" from Oldham

It looks like most candidates in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election can claim some success or at the very least suggest that they could have done worse if it were not for their robust campaign. How do you stand for the abolition of gravity and manage to win 145 votes? The trouble with everyone claiming success is that there is only one winner and all the other candidates lost, but that's the nature of the first-past-the-post system. For this reason it is impossible to be forthright when it comes to explaining how the electorate has spoken.

All parties will argue that the voters supported them in some way. The overall majority was 3,558 or 10.2% of those who voted. I am more interested in those who are eligible to vote, but didn't as they are truly disenfranchised. The turnout was only 48.1% of the electorate and this means that 4.9% of the electorate made all the difference. Less than one person in twenty made the difference.

You will hear all parties claiming a good result but it is the Labour voice that is loudest. Ed Miliband claims that the victory sends a "clear message" to the Government about the rise in VAT, tuition fees and cuts. No it doesn't. The only clear message I get is that our voting system cannot hope to reflect the views of the electorate. We don't know anything about the detailed wishes of any of the individual voters, but Ed, we do know that Labour won with votes from 20.25% of the electorate and 79.75% of them didn't vote for the winner. Let's hope that Ed's "first step in a long journey" includes support for electoral reform.

Ed if you want to hear the clear message on the streets then unfortunately you will hear that most people aren't interested in politics. While I would have liked to see the Liberal Democrats fare better in this election, there is at least one good thing to have come out of it. A Labour candidate who ran a clean campaign improved on the result of one who ran on lies and inflammatory racist rhetoric. It would in many ways have been a sad moment for democracy if it had been the other way round. So I would like to congratulate both new MP Debbie Abrahams and the Labour electorate who voted for her, for showing that dirty tricks aren't necessary or even helpful, that Labour was able to get more votes without them than with them.

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